Rise Up, In Service

Nausheen Rajan is a Pakistani American Ismaili Muslim. She speaks about how she kept her culture within her American upbringing and the importance of getting her community involved in the civic and social politics.  Nausheen is an Alumnus of the MALA Young Leaders Fellowship program. 

I think my story starts before me. It starts with my parents and their immigration to the U.S, their stories as individuals, and how they had their own experiences that shaped their values and the values they gave to me.  My father immigrated to the U.S when he was 19 from Karachi, Pakistan. He was the first in his family to immigrate out here. When he came here he had only $100 in his pocket and quickly had to figure out how to make ends meet. He found himself in 3 separate jobs, like working as a chauffeur or a janitor. He often mentions he would sleep in his car at night to make it to the next job and get ready at McDonalds. Your typical hard working  immigrant.  My mom immigrated here when she was 11 with her siblings and her parents, so she was quite young.  Like my father, she had to start working at an early age, so my parents met and they got married. They were located in McAllen, Texas, for a little bit, where they got pregnant with me. Then they moved to Pensacola, Florida, where I was born.

I think that’s where my story truly begins, with them and their hard work, their sacrifices, their values. I felt like I lived in two different worlds. I think a lot of children of immigrants feel that way. The world at home with my parents and my community, and the world at school and friends outside of my community. The experiences I was having as an individual,  as a young person growing up here. The first in my family to go through these experiences and the  school system here, they often comforted each other you know.  I think one thing I will say about my parents is that they are very understanding. Even if they didn’t quite understand everything, they understand the importance of the need for integration of sorts or to find a way to be fluid in both cultures and navigate them the way I needed to. But not strictly in one or the other because they wanted  to make sure that I grew up with the values that they had. And I grew up with the culture that they were familiar with, as well. I carry that sense of identity with me because I think a lot of immigrants feel that once they move here they feel loss of identity and connection  back home. I think we really want to have the same experiences or things that they had as well, the positives about it.

When I’m busy, I’m busy because I really care about the things I’m involved in. I put all of myself into everything I do. I, before starting grad school, got super involved in activating my Muslim community to get out to vote. This was just something that a friend and I had discussed. I had DM’ed her on Instagram, “Hey why don’t we organize some trainings, like a proper training led for Ismaili Muslims, by Ismaili Muslims, becoming organizers in our community.” Because we have so many assigned Muslims in the United States.” We say that we’re a minority within a minority.

This is an important part of our faith, we grow up learning to serve not only our community but the community beyond just our community. We’re told to uphold our democratic principles and be agents of change, engaging in a civically minded sense. There has to be a community we can create out of this that can be a space for Ismaili Muslims. That was just a genuine want and desire to do something and it turned into what it turned into. Which was phenomenal and so happy that there was now a community where Ismaili Muslims can turn to when they wanna get involved and remain politically engaged. That wasn’t just something I did to figure out how to stay busy, I just really wanted to open up a path to other Ismaili Muslims who were thinking the same way or found the barriers to access this or even think about getting involved. And suddenly we made it easier for that to happen.

I truly feel like it takes a few people coming together to do something and expand those opportunities for everyone else. I just consider myself blessed and extremely lucky to be in this position or have found myself in this position to do what I do.

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